Make Ahead

Grandma Clari's Empanadas

June  8, 2011
2 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Serves lots
Author Notes

All day I have been buffeted by a terrible nostalgia for everything Argentine and long gone, for my grandmother’s beautiful and varied cooking, for the shape of her fingers (one bent due to a kitchen mishap, another with its tip sliced off), for the all-encompassing feeling of arriving at her kitchen surrounded by cousins. I blame all this on my old friend Hernán, who last night for no earthly reason posted a shameless list of classic Argentine hits from the mid-eighties.
My grandmother Clari was the sort who sent you to the vegetable patch to unearth potatoes if you wanted gnocchi for lunch, and who all but burnt our small flat down when, on a visit once to Geneva—and wanting me to eat proper, homemade dulce de leche—set the big Le Creuset pot on a low fire and settled in for a nap. She died ten years ago, and I’ve been missing her awfully.
It’s easy to get really great empanadas on almost any Buenos Aires block, and in the past decade regional empanadas (especially those hailing from Tucumán, Salta, and Mendoza) have really gussied up the offerings—but nothing quite has the flavor of Clari’s homemade empanadas. I have a tiny black notebook in which she wrote out some recipes for me, and the only thing that stands out, possibly apart from the alchemy and other ethers, is the combination of flavours created by combining plumped raisins, green olives, and cumin, and the specific texture and juiciness of the hand-cut beef. Don’t take a shortcut on this step. In terms of the effort you’ll put into it, it’s really not a big deal, but the results are incomparable to ground beef. If a shortcut is absolutely necessary here, make it by using premade dough for the empanada rounds. It won’t be the same, but it will be good enough, and not everyone has access to flaky beef back fat. But I really wouldn’t bother to make these with ground beef.
Clari baked her empanadas, and they’d emerge from the oven steaming and almost juicing over, just waiting for the first bite. But if anyone has a preference for frying, I’d say go for it. It’s got to be a great take on these. I recommend a nice Malbec and a late afternoon breeze to accompany the empanadas.

Buen provecho!

NOTE: You can play with the amounts of cumin, coriander, oregano, and pimentón to come up with your own best flavour.

The images are of my grandmother's kitchen, her standing in front of the house (sometime in the fifties, I'm guessing), of our woodburning empanada and pizza oven, and a generic image of empanadas. —nogaga

Test Kitchen Notes

Beef fat should be easy to find for those who live near cattle-rearing communities. However, for the rest of us, shortening will do. Feel free to halve this entire recipe if feeding a smaller crowd—though you may appreciate the leftovers. —Stephanie Bourgeois

What You'll Need
  • Dough for empanadas
  • 8 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons fine sea salt
  • 8 1/2 ounces flaky beef fat, rendered and cooled, or other fat or oil
  • 2 1/2 cups water
  • Filling for empanadas
  • 1/3 cup raisins
  • 1/2 pound green olives, then some
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 pound excellent fillet of beef
  • 1 bunch spring onions, sliced
  • 1 medium-sized onion
  • 1 green pepper
  • 2 tablespoons rendered and cooled beef fat
  • 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
  • 1 dash salt and pepper, to taste
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1 teaspoon demerara sugar
  • 1 teaspoon sweet pimentón or paprika
  1. For the dough: mix the flour, salt, and cooled rendered fat. Add water as you mix the ingredients, until the mass holds together and becomes a smooth dough. Knead only until it holds its own shape well, wrap in plastic wrap, and allow an hour to rest at room temp. When you're ready, divide into manageable portions and roll out into a thin layer, about 1/4 inch thick. Cut into disks, 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Keep these disks humid by stacking them with with plastic wrap between each disk and covering the entire pile. You can refrigerate these while making the filling.
  2. For the filling: First, the mise en place: Hydrate the raisins in water or red wine and set aside. Remove the pits from the green olives, dice, and set aside. Boil the eggs for about 8 minutes, let cool, peel, and chop and set aside. Finely chop the beef into thin, small slices resembling what you might be served at a fine Parisian bistro if you asked for a good beef tartare, a pile of distinct beef shavings far from a mash. Please enjoy this last step thoroughly!
  3. Finely chop the spring onions, onion, and deveined green pepper. Melt the rendered beef fat in a large pot and begin to gently soften the onions and pepper. You do not want them in any way to crisp. Crush the coriander seeds and add them along with salt, pepper, cumin, and oregano. Add tomato paste and sugar.
  4. Add the beef and mix while it begins to cook, until it loses its raw color. Add the olives and raisins.
  5. Add chopped cooked eggs and pimentón, mix very gently, and check that the seasoning is to your taste. Allow the filling to cool before forming the empanadas.
  6. Preheat your oven to 400° F. Remove dough disks from fridge and allow to reach room temperature. Place a little more than a tablespoon of filling on one side of each disk and fold the other half over it, sealing the edges with water and neat folds, as if you were crimping a pie.
  7. These are best made on a pizza stone, but use what you've got. If you are using a plain baking sheet, I'd recommend sprinkling with some polenta before placing the empanadas on top. These normally need to bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, and emerge succulent and piping hot.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • nogaga
  • Silvia Davis
    Silvia Davis
  • Paul Vander Woude
    Paul Vander Woude
  • wssmom
  • pauljoseph

39 Reviews

Kurt G. April 20, 2018
As others here, I questioned the 1” thickness of the discs of dough. Looking at other recipes, I’m convinced this is a typo. Comparing other sources I think a thickness of 1/4” is more appropriate.
nogaga April 21, 2018
Total typo, you’re right. I fixed it. Thank you.
nogaga April 20, 2018
Guys, I can’t tell you how much I love everything here. No words.
Kurt G. April 20, 2018
I’m in the middle of cooking the filling. The aroma is heaven.
Silvia D. April 19, 2018
Thank you for sharing this recipe! My parents and I immigrated from Argentina and my mom makes incredible empanadas:) Unfortunately, I haven't (until now) found a written recipe that sounds like her unwritten one. Please confirm one thing, though: When you roll out the disk dough, should it be 1 inch thick as written in the recipe? For some reason that sounds like a very thick disk. I cannot wait to try this!!
Paul V. April 18, 2018
Also, if you would be so kind, what do you mean by “flaky beef fat?” Suet? Tallow? Lard? Thanks for your help!
Kurt G. April 20, 2018
Paul, I looked into this as I was curious too. Flaky beef fat is rendered fat, i.e., tallow (lard is pig fat). I got some suet from the butcher, rendered it for 30-45 minutes on low/slow cooker, strained it and chilled it until it solidified. Then I cut off the amounts I wanted, nuked it for a bit to melt it down (it melts at just above room temp) and am using it now in the recipe.
Paul V. April 22, 2018
Thanks Kurt!
Paul V. April 18, 2018
The recipe says the dough for each piece is 3 to 4 inches in diameter and one inch thick, which it calls “thin”. Is this correct? Seems awfully thick for small empanadas????
Kurt G. April 20, 2018
I have this concern too. I’m in the middle of preparing them now,s so I’ll have to search other recipes for confirmation.
wssmom June 21, 2011
I love the headnote as much as I love the recipe! Beautifully done ....
nogaga June 22, 2011
Thank you, wssmom!
pauljoseph June 15, 2011
One of my favorite recipes
nogaga June 15, 2011
thank you, pauljoseph!
Sagegreen June 14, 2011
It is a bit dangerous to read this recipe in the morning, because you will just be craving it until lunch! This recipe makes me want to travel to Argentina, too. What a great history and recipe.
nogaga June 14, 2011
Thank you Sagegreen! Hope you satisfy that craving!
nogaga June 10, 2011
Sounds like a great place to hang out! (If you're still buying meat from an Argentine butcher the cut you're looking for for these empanadas is "lomo.")
pierino June 10, 2011
I'm a great admirer of Argentine foods so I can't wait to try this. I used to buy my meat from an Argentine market called El Gaucho in Redondo Beach. The place also functioned as a sort of social club for Boca Juniors fans.
nogaga June 8, 2011
Enticing it is!
nogaga June 8, 2011
Thank you for the lovely comment!
nogaga June 8, 2011
Thank you for the lovely comment!
boulangere June 8, 2011
Count on it, and thank you so much!
boulangere June 8, 2011
Count on it! And thank you so much!
fiveandspice June 8, 2011
Beautiful memories! These empanadas sound wonderful. I tend to fill mine with all sorts of crazy experimental things, but I'm still a sucker for this particular traditional filling. Every time I have it I'm struck by what an enticing combination of flavors it is.
cookinginvictoria June 8, 2011
Thank you for sharing such a delicious-sounding family recipe. I love your beautifully written headnote -- it brings your grandmother vividly to life. I too was influenced by the cooking of my grandmothers, and I miss them terribly. Your recipe directions are lovely -- I especially like how you say the beef should be cut similar to beef tartare in a Paris bistro -- definitely NOT ground beef! And what lovely photos. Your kitchen is adorable, and I am coveting your wood oven!
Sadassa_Ulna June 8, 2011
This is beautiful!
nogaga June 8, 2011
Thanks :)
aargersi June 8, 2011
Wow - I love everything about this - the story, the flavors, the directions, the end result.
nogaga June 8, 2011
Thank you!
hardlikearmour June 8, 2011
These sound incredible! Your headnote just beckons for them to be made. Thanks for sharing part of your family history with us.
nogaga June 8, 2011
I'm glad you're feeling beckoned, hardlikearmour!